Anne Bancroft, The Graduate

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Friday, December 02, 2005

John Simon

I'm not usually a fan of John Simon, because of what feels like his occasional wanton cruelty, but sometimes he writes very well about performances.

About Bancroft, he wrote something almost perfectly succinct and descriptive, though I'm not sure if this is an exact quote:

"Anne Bancroft burns with a black flame as Mrs. Robinson...."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Stephen Farber and Estelle Changas

"The film's best scenes are the early ones in which Ben is seduced by the wife of his father's partner (superbly played by Anne Bancroft--her performance is reason enough to see the film). Bancroft, a young man's deliciously provocative sexual fantasy come to life, makes us aware that there is something to be said for women over thirty. When she's on, Ben might just as well roll over and play dead. Bancroft is engagingly wicked as Mrs. Robinson; she is at once supremely confident of her sexual power and mercilessly casual in the face of Ben's adolescent fear of her. Alone with him in her house, she takes calm delight in exposing her legs, while he ejaculates moral misgivings. Her sophistication enables her to see through his repeated protests; "You want me to seduce you, is that what you're trying to tell me, Benjamin?" she chants in poker-faced style. And finally, having trapped him in her daughter's bedroom, she remains utterly cool, while her daring flirtations assault, comically caught by rapid cuts from bare bosom to Ben's anguished face, leaves him helplessly gasping, "Jesus Christ, Mrs. Robinson!"

"Unfortunately, this is about the only scene which allows us to see that Ben is sexually attracted to Mrs. Robinson. Most of the time Nichols insists that Mrs. Robinson is repulsive because she is sexual and Benjamin lovable because he is not. Sheer boredom, Ben confesses, is the only thing which brings him to her time after time. And later he explains that bedding down with Mrs. Robinson meant nothing; it was "just another thing that happened to me ... just like shaking hands." Apparently we are to believe, as Stanley Kauffmann has written, that Ben "sees the older woman's advances as a syndrome of a suspect society," and that he deserves congratulations for his indifference; what seems an astonishing blindness to Mrs. Robinson's very real sexiness is to be taken as a moral victory.

"Ben's voice of morality, though, is rather unpleasantly self-righteous: "Do you think I'm proud that I spend my time with a broken-down alcoholic?" The scene in which he tries to liven up their evenings by getting Mrs. Robinson to talk to him has been much praised, and it is an interesting scene, though not for the reasons given, but because it presents Mrs. Robinson with more complexity than usual. When, in the middle of their abortive conversation, she orders Ben not to take out her daughter, the only reason he can guess for the command is that she thinks he isn't good enough for Elaine, and he announces angrily that he considers this liaison "sick and perverted." Bancroft's face, marvelously expressive of deeply rooted social and personal discontents, makes clear to us that this is not Mrs. Robinson's reason, that her reasons are much more intense and tortured than Ben suspects--mostly, presumably, an envy of youth and a fear of being cast off for her daughter--and deserve his sympathy, not his moralistic outrage. Ben is too insensitive to see that when she seems to acknowledge that she thinks her daughter too good for him, it's only out of desperation and confusion; she has feelings more intricate and disturbed than she knows how to explain to him. His rejection of her at this moment may look moral, but given the depth and the anguish of her emotional experience, it's a pretty ugly, unfeeling response. Mrs. Robinson's answer to Ben's plea that she talk to him--"I don't think we have much to say to each other"--proves to be quite accurate, but it doesn't expose her shallowness, as Nichols seems to have intended, it exposes Ben's. She has so much more self-awareness than he, and so many more real problems, why should she talk to him? Anne Bancroft is really too interesting for Nichol's sentimentalities about the generational gap, so he treats her characterization with no respect; after this scene, he turns her into a hideous witch, and evil Furie maniacally insistent on keeping Ben and her daughter apart. This goes along with the current urge to see the generational conflict as a coloring-book morality play--the young in white, the old in black--but it's a cheap dramatic trick...."

Stephen Farber and Estelle Changas
Film Quarterly, Winter 1967?, p. 38-39

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

originally published 2006